CLEVELAND (UMNS) - A Mormon seeking to join the United Methodist Church must undergo a period of intense study and be baptized.

United Methodist decision makers adopted that guideline May 10 when they approved "Sacramental Faithfulness: Guidelines for Receiving People From the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)" as criteria for pastors and congregations in ministering to Mormons seeking to join the denomination.

The "Sacramental Faithfulness" document, offered by the churchwide Board of Discipleship, seeks to provide more understanding on the differences between United Methodist and Mormon baptism, and to assist people in understanding who the Mormons are as they relate to United Methodists and other denominations.

In a vote with no debate, General Conference delegates recommended that before a Mormon could join the denomination, baptism should be required. "It is our recommendation that following a period of catechesis (a time of intensive exploration and instruction in the Christian faith), such a convert should receive the sacrament of Christian baptism," the delegates said in their adopted resolution.

"Sacramental Faithfulness" is the result of a 1998 conference between the United Methodist Church's Rocky Mountain Annual (regional) Conference and the Mormon Church to discuss baptismal theology and practice in both denominations. There was a "perceived" need on the part of United Methodists, especially those living and ministering in the Western United States, for more clarity on taking Mormons into the United Methodist Church. At issue was whether a person's baptism in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints constitutes a valid Christian baptism. Other differences between the two traditions relate to doctrines and the meaning of salvation.

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by self-definition, does fit within the bounds of the historic, apostolic tradition of Christian faith," delegates said.

While the Mormons identify themselves as Christian, they also "explicitly (profess) distinction and separateness from the ecumenical community," delegates said. Mormons are intentional about clarifying differences in doctrine, the delegates noted.

"Sacramental Faithfulness" also recommends that Mormons seeking membership in the United Methodist Church first initiate their own formal removal from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

By approving the document, delegates also authorized the Board of Discipleship to provide resources related to "Sacramental Faithfulness" for pastors and congregations. The resources would offer guidance in receiving Mormons who seek to join the church in ways that are faithful to the United Methodist heritage.

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